Here is the transcript of Darrell Buxton’s introduction to Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond from last Friday night for those of you who couldn’t make it and for those of you that did, to relive it.
Hello once again and welcome to Fright Club, QUAD’s regular presentation of the best in horror. Tonight we’re presenting a classic 80s title but one not often seen on the big screen, FROM BEYOND. And watching this one on a cinema screen can only enhance its colourful, hallucinogenic, other-worldly and extra-dimensional qualities.
Back in the summer of 2013 we brought you Stuart Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR as a Fright Club treat. RE-ANIMATOR was based on one of celebrated horror author H.P. Lovecraft’s stories featuring the character ‘Herbert West’; Lovecraft was renowned for his creation of a realm beyond our known world, whose gigantic tentacled gods held sway over an unwitting mankind, and for the subtlety of such chilling tales as ‘Pickman’s Model’, ‘Cool Air’, ‘Lurking Fear’ and ‘The Rats In The Walls’. His work proved difficult for filmmakers to adapt, however; the early seventies TV series ‘Night Gallery’ made a few spooky if low-key stabs at versions of Lovecraft’s weird tales, but the few attempted movies, including 1969’s THE DUNWICH HORROR and Roger Corman’s 1963 THE HAUNTED PALACE, based on Lovecraft’s novel ‘The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward’, could never quite capture the author’s style or bring his unique vision successfully to the cinema.
For years it seemed that Lovecraft’s cosmic spectrum would prove elusive to the world’s filmmakers. In the mid-80s, however, Chicago-based experimental theatre director Stuart Gordon hit upon the inspired idea of bringing one of the author’s lesser works, ‘Herbert West – Re-Animator’, to the screen. Written during 1921 and 1922, this was a six-episode bit of throwaway pulp fiction, far from Lovecraft’s usual style and seemingly only written for money, as the author was reportedly paid $5 for each instalment. In movie terms, luckily for us, Gordon’s move was sensational, showing that the ideal way to film Lovecraft was to aim at the hack end of his prolific output and go for broke. RE-ANIMATOR not only proved that Lovecraft’s work could be brought to the movies, but it also completely re-invigorated the horror scene – by the mid-80s, horror was a battered and bruised thing, buffeted by critics, censors, and an establishment which wanted it neutered. RE-ANIMATOR was one of the few films at the time to challenge the accepted view, and in the same way that Herbert West’s syringe full of luminous green ‘re-agent’ brought hyperactivity back to dead tissue, director Gordon too gave the good old monster movie a real shot in the arm.
Gordon followed RE-ANIMATOR swiftly with a creepy little bit of fright fun called DOLLS, but that project initially failed to get release and sat on the shelf for a while. However, the director then returned to Lovecraft as a source in 1986, adapting another of his stories from the early 1920s, FROM BEYOND. It’s always wonderful for film fans to see the birth of a new horror star or the setting-up of a moviemaking team, and FROM BEYOND brought back RE-ANIMATOR stars Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, and the director’s wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, as well as producer Brian Yuzna, composer Richard Band, cinematographer Mac Ahlberg, and many of the earlier film’s technical wizards.
Combs’ determined, through-gritted-teeth performance as Herbert West had made him an instant star, and his participation in FROM BEYOND cemented his reputation among the horror community – 80s horror fans suddenly had their own Boris Karloff, their own Vincent Price. Cleverly, Gordon has Combs playing a more meek and mild character this time around, reversing the situation so that Barbara Crampton becomes the focus and chief orchestrator of events. Her role offers a classic, and surely very knowing, version of that old Hollywood cliche in which the strait-laced, stern, glasses-wearing and hair-tied-in-a-bun female lead lets everything loose, giving 80s horror fans a brand new scream queen to sit along the past greats too. Pin-up shots of Babs in stockings and leather S&M gear graced the pages of every horror movie magazine out there at the time, and her presence dominates FROM BEYOND to an arguably even higher extent than Combs had managed in RE-ANIMATOR. Crampton eclipses the rest of the human cast here, although a few of the crazy, inter-dimensional creatures that pop in every so often do their best to draw your attention away from her captivating beauty and her skilful, detailed performance.
Fans of George Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD will also be excited to see that film’s likeable hero Ken Foree back on duty here, in what is probably his second-best horror role during a distinguished acting career currently into its fortieth year.
Legendary critic Roger Ebert was no fan of horror in the eighties, but he liked Gordon’s films quite a lot. His review of FROM BEYOND for the Chicago Sun-Times in October 1986 began by informing his readership that “The slime, I gather, is edible. It comes in 10-gallon drums and is the same stuff McDonald’s used to give body to their milkshakes. They use a lot of it in FROM BEYOND, where creatures from other dimensions appear in our world, dripping in mucus and goo”. He praises the director, calling him “a real stylist” and noting that “Gordon’s mission seems to be to return real fear, real depravity, to the horror film”.
Ok, welcome to number 666 Benevolent Street. We’re about to turn on the Resonator. Should you feel a headache coming on, or something twitching just above your brow, at any time in the next ninety minutes, fear not. It’s simply your pineal gland, coming up for air and seeking a bit of exercise and stimulation. Go with it, let it happen. What wonders await you… FROM BEYOND!
Next up for FRIGHT CLUB is the…film that launched a franchise….CRITTERS! Tickets on sale now.